Business lessons from the World Cup

Everyone seems to know the score… we’ve seen it all before.

We’re a likeable bunch of tryers who will put in a shift, but then watch depressed as the organised and efficient Germans prove too much for us.

A World Cup prophecy?

No, actually… an analysis of European productivity rates.

The characteristics of Germany’s first 11 – a well organised unit who know their individual roles inside out and work hard to achieve team goals – are also reflected in the country’s working economy.

But what are the other lessons business leaders can take from the greatest tournament in sport?

Are skills transferable from the beautiful game into the office?

Team structure

Come the 15th July, the winner of the 2018 World Cup will be revealed, and few bookmakers are tipping England to be the team to hold the trophy aloft. According to some sports data analysts, England has less chance of winning the tournament than Peru!

However, that hasn’t deterred some fans who – for the first time in decades – are cautiously optimistic about the national team’s prospects. Purely in terms of ability, most would argue that past England teams have been superior ‘on paper’, but previous managers have failed to find the right formation to suit the team’s strengths. Where earlier squads have failed, this year’s team have a clear plan in place. Rather than a set of square pegs for round holes, Gareth Southgate, our current manager, is going for a 3-4-3 formation that suits the players’ abilities perfectly.

Similarly, businesses can get the best results out of their staff by establishing the right team structure. This means creating specialised roles within clearly defined departments that are geared towards completing a specific set of tasks. It’s important that each staff member understands the requirements of the job and is given the training and support they need to perform to the best of their abilities.


As the 32 managers taking part in this year’s tournament know, people decisions are often the most difficult decisions.

When choosing their 23-man squads, the national managers were tasked with recruiting the right characters into the team without upsetting the apple cart. Despite receiving some inevitable criticism, Gareth Southgate’s England team selection was largely well received by the press and pundits. Unlike England’s balanced squad however, Argentina suffers from a weak defence while boasting several of the world’s finest attacking players from established stars like Lionel Messi to up-and-coming talents like Paulo Dybala. I’d go as far as to say the lack of balance and cohesion is jeopardising Argentina’s chances of winning the World Cup.

Argentina’s top-heavy squad is a lesson to any business that fails to consider its recruitment process carefully. It is important that organisations employ the right balance of junior and senior staff needed in each department, and each function is serviced by the right number of people.


History goes to show that many of the stars billed to shine at the start of the World Cup often fail to make the impact expected of them. Perhaps it’s a result of the immense pressure involved in such a major tournament, but often it’s the unexpected players and teams that truly capture the nation’s imagination.

Take the 2014 World Cup for example, where Costa Rica and James Rodriguez of Colombia performed far beyond their ability. It seems strange that player motivation should enter into the equation when representing a nation, but it would appear that pride is not enough when coupled with nerves and expectation.

Business managers can similarly reap the dividends if they are able to provide staff with the motivation and encouragement they need to perform at their peak. Ultimately, this comes down to confidence. Managers should remove barriers to staff development, and in time their self-confidence in their role will grow too.

It’s an age-old sporting cliché that youngsters play without fear. With the third youngest squad in the tournament, there is plenty of confidence in the England squad and reason to believe that the Three Lions may yet ensure football’s coming home this summer!